At The Picture Show
Rock of ages
Dwayne Johnson carries 'Witch Mountain' remake as far as he can
Race to Witch Mountain
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Andy Fickman
Screenplay: Matt Lopez and Matt Bomback, based on a novel by Alexander Key
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Ciaran Hinds,
Carla Gugino, Tom Everett Scott and Garry Marshall
Rated PG / 1 hour, 38 minutes
(out of four)
To see Dwayne Johnson carry Race to Witch Mountain from beginning to end - a
strain even on his broad shoulders - inspires both admiration and regret. Here is
an actor who should be at the top of the action-movie food chain, reduced to
toplining mediocre kid flicks - and not only is he pulling it off, but he seems to be
It only came to this because his action
ventures of his early post-WWE career failed to catch on. The Rundown was great,
but no one saw it. Many saw but few remembered The Scorpion King, Doom
flopped and, from then on, many of the rumored starring roles and "The Next
Schwarzenegger" chatter seemed to die down.
His reinvention as a marketable, family-friendly leading man is a tribute to his
natural charisma. At the same time, I feel like we're getting gypped. Maybe
Johnson simply came along in the wrong decade. He would have fit right in during
the '80s and early '90s, when Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal and Van Damme
ruled the day. With more natural acting talent than any of them - by a long shot -
he may have even stolen some of their roles.
But nowadays, action movies are more likely to go the "regular guy" routine. The
stars don't look like action figures anymore. We're more likely to see a Matt
Damon, a James McAvoy, a Nicolas Cage.
Hopefully, Johnson's best days - and best roles - are ahead of him.
Until then, the dapples of joy and
inspiration he can bring to us all are limited to the likes of Race to Witch Mountain,
which is not an altogether bad picture but is certainly one that has limited its
audience to an exclusively young intellect. It's essentially a Sunday night Wide
World of Disney special with a big-name cast and more expensive special effects.
Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a down-and-out cab driver in Las Vegas trying to
escape his past as a mobster's driver, and who just happens to get stuck with two
extraterrestrial children as his next fare. The government has been tracking alien
life for decades now, so Jack and the kids aren't on their own. As the three of them
race - wait for it . . . wait for it . . . - to Witch Mountain, not far behind is a
ruthless government heavy (Ciaran Hinds).
And we haven't even gotten to the alien bounty hunter (who, unfortunately, isn't
played by Brian Thompson).
What Johnson does so effectively in Witch Mountain is create a tonal balance
between the dumbed-down science and logic the plot depends on, and the necessity
of our willing suspension of disbelief.
The story is silly in a Power Rangers sort
of way, and not nearly as sophisticated as a lot of recent family fare, but Johnson's
conviction is able to pull us through it - even if the screenplay neglects to follow
through on the story of his character.
Johnson's performance isn't surprising. He has been the best part of otherwise
forgettable (Southland Tales) or downright abysmal (Be Cool) movies in against-type roles, and has already carried his share of bad movies.
Now we can just hope for the best. With the physique and comic timing of Arnold
(without the cumbersome accent) and the sly wit and everyman quality of Bruce
Willis, he's tailor-made for three or four of his own action franchises, an action-packed buddy comedy every year or two, the occasional head-trip into outer space,
a natural disaster or terrorist attack to thwart, and the magical journey of childbirth.
M-I-H, Hollywood - make it happen.
Read more by Chris Bellamy